Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo offense did plenty to make fans at the Rogers Centre shout Sunday, but the Bills defense had the more than 51,000 in attendance on their feet with a dominant performance in the team’s 23-0 win against the Washington Redskins.
The Bills came in with a league-low four sacks after four games and played without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Rookie Marcell Dareus took his place, moving from defensive end, and led a charge that brought down Redskins quarterback John Beck nine times to help preserve Buffalo’s first shutout since Dec. 17, 2006 against Miami.
“We’ve been getting pressure, we’ve just not been getting the sacks,” said Spencer Johnson, who stepped in at outside linebacker in place of the injured Shawne Merriman. “Sacks come in bunches and if we just keep plugging along going in that right direction, keep working hard in practice and focusing on what we can do, you can see what we can do.”
The Bills allowed just 178 yards of total offense (152 passing, 26 rushing) and added two more interceptions to their league leading total of 14. Buffalo ranked 30th against both the run and the pass heading into Sunday’s game.
“We talked about dominating each individual challenge that was out there — matching up with the man across from you and not only beating them, but dominating,” said George Wilson, who intercepted a Beck pass early in the fourth quarter.
Coach Chan Gailey said during the bye week that improving the pass rush was critical to the Bills’ success going forward. To come away with nine sacks, two shy of tying a Bills single-game record of 11, was a huge step in the right direction.
“I don’t think anybody expected that,” Gailey said. “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t expect that. They gave such a great effort, did a good job working technique and getting back to fundamentals.”
Nick Barnett and Arthur Moats got to Beck first in the second quarter, and before long the Bills had five sacks heading into the break. Johnson, Jairus Byrd, Chris Kelsay, Dwan Edwards and Kirk Morrison all brought down Beck at least once as well.
The consistent pressure eventually led to Beck’s two interceptions in the final frame.
“You could tell late in the game he got a little frustrated,” said Dareus, who had the most sacks by a Bills rookie since Cornelius Bennett in 1987. “He started throwing balls all kinds of ways. We just kept at it, kept chopping at that wood, and eventually, it gave.”
Jairus Byrd had the other Bills pick.
“As the game went on, those front four guys played lights out, and just played just really phenomenally consistently,” Wilson added.
A handful of injuries shuffled the Buffalo lineup on both sides of the ball. Aside from Johnson’s move to the outside, Alex Carrington got the nod at left defensive end to allow first-round pick Marcell Dareus to make his NFL debut at nose tackle.
“Like I tell everybody from the first time I got here: It doesn’t matter where they want me, I’m going to do the best I can wherever I’m at,” Dareus said.
Dareus had perhaps his best game yet in a Bills uniform despite the slight move inside.
“I felt real comfortable, but they play so flat across the line, it took a little of an adjustment,” he said. “It’s hard to imitate that in practice.”
Andy Levitre was back at left tackle Sunday in place of the injured Demetrius Bell and backup Chris Hairston. Chad Rinehart stepped into Levitre’s usual role as starting left guard. Kelvin Sheppard also made his first-career start at inside linebacker instead veteran Andra Davis.
With his second touchdown Sunday, Scott Chandler tied a Bills season record for touchdown receptions for a tight end with six (Pete Metzelaars in 1992 and Jay Riemersma in 1998).
Chandler reeled in his first touchdown pass since Week 3 against New England with a 20-yard score to help the Bills take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The 6-foot-7 tight end emerged as one of Buffalo’s top red zone targets with four TDs through the first three games, but made just four receptions for nine yards the following three weeks.
“We’ve got so many guys who can do a lot with the ball that you’re not going to have a big game every week,” Chandler said. “We’ve got guys like Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller and David Nelson out there. You just have to be happy with a win. You can’t worry about the stats. When it gets to be your turn, great.”
Chandler added another touchdown on Buffalo’s first drive in the second half, and finished with two catches for 35 yards Sunday.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s botched snap early in the second quarter accounted for the first fumble lost by the Bills this season. The Redskins took over on the Buffalo 31, but came up empty on the drive as Johnson blocked Graham Gano’s 49-yard field-goal try.
It was the Bills’ second field goal block in as many games for the first time since 1996. Carrington blocked a kick in the Week 6 loss to New York.
Rian Lindell had his first real miss of the season when his 44-yard attempt in the fourth quarter careened off the right upright no good. Lindell, though, finished the game 3 of 4, his long coming from 44 yards out.
Coming into the game the veteran kicker was 9 for 10 on the season, with his lone miss coming on a block against Oakland in Week 2.
On his 43-yard run to start the second half, Fred Jackson became the fourth Bills running back to record more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage through the first seven games of the season. Thurman Thomas did it last in 1991. Jackson once again led the Bills both rushing and receiving (26 carries, 120 yards; three catches, 74 yards).
Washington linebacker London Fletcher made a team-high 20 total tackles, including a half sack, as well as an interception in just his second game against his former team. The 36-year-old veteran, who played five seasons in Buffalo from 2002-06, was arguably the Redskins best player on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t agree that my teammates didn’t play with passion,” he told reporters. “The score can kind of be misconstrued. I don’t think anybody’s out there not giving effort.”
Redskins’ top receiver Santana Moss and starting left tackle Trent Williams both missed Sunday’s game, along with starting running back Tim Hightower, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Also missing in action were nickel corner Phillip Buchanon, veteran fullback Mike Sellers, DT Darrion Scott, TE Dominique Byrd and LB Markus White.
To no surprise Donald Jones, Aaron Williams, Hairston, Bell and Kyle Williams were all out with injuries. Terrence Wheatley and Antonio Coleman were also inactive.
Contact Tonawanda News sports editor Brandon Koch at 693-1000, ext. 4117.